This season has birthed one of the best rivalries in the NBA, Washington and Boston. Whether on or off the court, both teams have shared their disdain for each other and that hate will be front and center in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Here is a breakdown of this series.
What happened in the regular season:
After Washington took game one of their four game regular season series, this happened:
While it might look small, this incident began the rivalry that is stronger than ever today. Seemingly every game after this came with a war of words and a incident or two on the court. One game saw John Wall and Marcus Smart get into a scuffle (which led to Wall getting ejected.) Another game saw Boston star Isaiah Thomas “laugh” when asked if he sees Washington as a rival. And one game was properly titled the “Funeral game,” which saw every Wizards’ player arrive to the game wearing all black.
While Bradley Beal was solid this whole year, he was at his best playing against Boston. He finished two games scoring 31 and 35 respectively while Isaiah Thomas finished the series averaging nearly 26 points a game a game.
Both team split in the season series, but because Boston finished the regular season with the number one seed, they’ll have home court advantage.
Washington is coming off a six game series against Atlanta, while Boston downed Chicago in six games as well.
X-Factor for each team:
Marin Gortat: Yes, John Wall is Washington’s best player and will NEED to win the battle at point against Isaiah Thomas, but Gortat has a huge advantage that Washington will need to capitalize on if they want to advance. Out of all the teams remaining in these playoffs, Boston is dead last in rebounding. Because center Al Horford is shorter and not as physical as Gortat, Washington would be smart to run endless pick-n-roll’s with Gortat to get mismatches all over the floor. While Gortat struggled in the Atlanta series scoring the ball, this is because Dwight Howard was wearing him down physically. However, Horford is not Howard, and Washington needs to win the rebounds battle against a team that struggles mightily in that category.
Isaiah Thomas: It is understandable that Thomas was unable to bring his all in the first round, due to the passing of his little sister a day before game one of the playoffs. And there are even reports saying he might miss game one of this series due to his sisters funeral. Thomas was even quoted in saying “Mentally and emotionally i’m not here.” But Thomas will have to be the superstar he has been this entire season if Boston hopes to make it passed Washington. Yes, statistically Thomas is the worst defender in the NBA, but he will need to find a way to slow down whoever he is guarding (Boston will more than likely put him on Otto Porter to try and hide him on defense.) And while Chicago is a team that struggles to find scoring, Washington is one of the best teams at penetrating and getting to the line. Thomas will need to bring his A game on the offensive side of the ball, or Boston will have problems.
Each team wins If:
Washington: Attack the rim! Boston is a scrappy team, but they are also undersized. Boston also is a team that does not prefer to play an up and down game (which the Wizards do.) If Washington takes it to the rim and gets to the foul line, Boston will have trouble keeping up with the pace. Because Wall and Beal are two of he best at drawing fouls and converting three-point plays, Washington should have an advantage on both on the boards and at the charity stripe. And because Washington’s defense is usually fueled by how well they play offensively, attacking the rim would and should be their best bet.
Boston: Slows down Washington’s backcourt. If Beal and Wall are having a bad game, Washington is having a bad game. The Wizards backcourt is one of the best in the entire league. Wall’s ability to fly past defenders and finished at the rim paired with Beal’s sharp shooting makes them a lethal one, two punch. While Thomas will more than likely not be guarding with Wall or Beal, it’s going to Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart will with draw the tasks of slowing down the dynamic duo. Because Washington goes as far as their backcourt takes them, Boston will need to win that battle in order to make in to the conference finals.
Boston dropping the first two games of their first round series showed the world one thing: they have a problem handling crafty guards and size on the interior. Rajon Rondo put a monkey wrench in their scheme and they had no answer for him. It was only when Rondo went out due to injury that they were able to rally in win four straight. Now take out Rondo and insert John Wall. Not only is Wall a better scorer than Rondo, his court vision and ability to dish the ball is his greatest strength (Wall finished second in assist in the NBA.)
Washington likes to run on offense and play physical on defense. With the size of Gortat, Ian Mahinmi (when he gets healthy), and Jason Smith, Washington has an advantage on the boards against an undersized Boston team. While Isaiah Thomas will do what he does best (score), his defense will be a major hindrance to slowing down a red hot Washington team. Beal and Wall should get theirs along with Porter, who finished second in the league in three point percentage. Markieff Morris will be huge, slowing down and ultimately winning the battle of the power forward position. IF Washington plays like the team that finished with the second best record in the NBA post-allstar break, any team will have a hard time beating them.
Prediction: Wizards win series 4-2